4. Cape Hatteras -
Imponderable the dinosaur
the mammoth saurian
ghoul, the eastern
While rises in the west the coastwise range,
slowly the hushed land —
Combustion at the astral core — the dorsal change
Of energy — convulsive shift of sand ...
But we, who round the capes, the promontories
Where strange tongues vary messages of surf
Below grey citadels, repeating to the stars
The ancient names — return home to our own
Hearths, there to eat an apple and recall
The songs that gypsies dealt us at Marseille
Or how the priests walked — slowly through Bombay —
Or to read you, Walt, — knowing us in thrall
To that deep wonderment, our native clay
Whose depth of red, eternal flesh of Pocahontas —
Those continental folded aeons, surcharged
With sweetness below derricks, chimneys, tunnels —
Is veined by all that time has really pledged us ...
And from above, thin squeaks of radio static,
The captured fume of space foams in our ears —
What whisperings of far watches on the main
Relapsing into silence, while time clears
Our lenses, lifts a focus, resurrects
A periscope to glimpse what joys or pain
Our eyes can share or answer — then deflects
Us, shunting to a labyrinth submersed
Where each sees only his dim past reversed ...
But that star-glistered salver of infinity,
The circle, blind crucible of endless space,
Is sluiced by motion, — subjugated never
Adam and Adam's answer in the forest
Left Hesperus mirrored in the lucid pool.
Now the eagle dominates our days, is jurist
Of the ambiguous cloud. We know the strident rule
Of wings imperious ... Space, instantaneous,
Flickers a moment, consumes us in its smile:
A flash over the horizon — shifting gears —
And we have laughter, or more sudden tears
Dream cancels dream in this new realm of fact
From which we wake into the dream of act;
Seeing himself an atom in a shroud —
Man hears himself an engine in a cloud!
" — Recorders ages hence " — ah, syllables of faith!
Walt, tell me, Walt Whitman, if infinity
Be still the same as when you walked the beach
Near Paumanok — your lone patrol — and heard the wraith
Through surf, its bird note there a long time falling ...
For you, the panoramas and this breed of towers,
Of you — the theme that's statured in the cliff,
O Saunterer on free ways still ahead!
Not this our empire yet, but labyrinth
Wherein your eyes, like the Great Navigator's without ship,
Gleam from the great stones of each prison crypt
Of canyoned traffic ... Confronting the Exchange,
Surviving in a world of stocks, — they also range
Across the hills where second timber strays
Back over Connecticut farms, abandoned pastures, —
Sea eyes and tidal, undenying, bright with myth!
The nasal whine of power whips a new universe ...
Where spouting pillars spoor the evening sky,
Under the looming stacks of the gigantic power house
Stars prick the eyes with sharp ammoniac proverbs,
New verities, new inklings in the velvet hummed
Of dynamos, where hearing's leash is strummed ...
Power's script, — wound, bobbin-bound, refined —
Is stropped to the slap of belts on booming spools, spurred
Into the bulging bouillon, harnessed jelly of the stars.
Towards what? The forked crash of split thunder parts
Our hearing momentwise; but fast in whirling armatures,
As bright as frogs' eyes, giggling in the girth
Of steely gizzards — axle-bound, confined
In coiled precision, bunched in mutual glee
The bearings glint, — O murmurless and shined
In oilrinsed circles of blind ecstasy!
Stars scribble on our eyes the frosty sagas,
The gleaming cantos of unvanquished space ...
O sinewy silver biplane, nudging the wind's withers!
There, from Kill Devils Hill at Kitty Hawk
Two brothers in their twinship left the dune;
Warping the gale, the Wright windwrestlers veered
Capeward, then blading the wind's flank, banked and spun
What ciphers risen from prophetic script,
What marathons new-set between the stars!
The soul, by naphtha fledged into new reaches
Already knows the closer clasp of Mars, —
New latitudes, unknotting, soon give place
To what fierce schedules, rife of doom apace!
Behold the dragon's covey — amphibian, ubiquitous
To hedge the seaboard, wrap the headland, ride
The blue's cloud-templed districts unto ether ...
While Iliads glimmer through eyes raised in pride
Hell's belt springs wider into heaven's plumed side.
O bright circumferences, heights employed to fly
War's fiery kennel masked in downy offings, —
This tournament of space, the threshed and chiselled height,
Is baited by marauding circles, bludgeon flail
Of rancorous grenades whose screaming petals carve us
Wounds that we wrap with theorems sharp as hail!
Wheeled swiftly, wings emerge from larval-silver hangars.
Taut motors surge, space-gnawing, into flight;
Through sparkling visibility, outspread, unsleeping,
Wings clip the last peripheries of light ...
Tellurian wind-sleuths on dawn patrol,
Each plane a hurtling javelin of winged ordnance,
Bristle the heights above a screeching gale to hover;
Surely no eye that Sunward Escadrille can cover!
There, meaningful, fledged as the Pleiades
With razor sheen they zoom each rapid helix!
Up-chartered choristers of their own speeding
They, cavalcade on escapade, shear Cumulus —
Lay siege and hurdle Cirrus down the skies!
While Cetus-like, O thou Dirigible, enormous Lounger
Of pendulous auroral beaches, — satellited wide
By convoy planes, moonferrets that rejoin thee
On fleeing balconies as thou dost glide,
— Hast splintered space!
Low, shadowed of the Cape,
Regard the moving turrets! From grey decks
See scouting griffons rise through gaseous crepe
Hung low ... until a conch of thunder answers
Cloud-belfries, banging, while searchlights, like fencers,
Slit the sky's pancreas of foaming anthracite
Toward thee, O Corsair of the typhoon, — pilot, hear!
Thine eyes bicarbonated white by speed, O Skygak, see
How from thy path above the levin's lance
Thou sowest doom thou hast nor time nor chance
To reckon — as thy stilly eyes partake
What alcohol of space ...! Remember, Falcon-Ace,
Thou hast there in thy wrist a Sanskrit charge
To conjugate infinity's dim marge —
But first, here at this height receive
The benediction of the shell's deep, sure reprieve!
Lead-perforated fuselage, escutcheoned wings
Lift agonized quittance, tilting from the invisible brink
Now eagle-bright, now
-ing, sink with
Enormous repercussive list-
gauntlets, upturned, unlooping
In guerrilla sleights, trapped in combustion gyr-
Ing, dance the curdled depth
(now nearing fast the Cape!)
vortex into crashed
. . . . dispersion ... into mashed and shapeless debris. ...
By Hatteras bunched the beached heap of high bravery!
. . . . . .
The stars have grooved our eyes with old persuasions
Of love and hatred, birth, — surcease of nations ...
But who has held the heights more sure than thou,
O Walt! — Ascensions of thee hover in me now
As thou at junctions elegiac, there, of speed
With vast eternity, dost wield the rebound seed!
The competent loam, the probable grass, — travail
Of tides awash the pedestal of Everest, fail
Not less than thou in pure impulse inbred
To answer deepest soundings! O, upward from the dead
Thou bringest tally, and a pact, new bound
Of living brotherhood!
Thou, there beyond —
Glacial sierras and the flight of ravens,
Hermetically past condor zones, through zenith havens
Past where the albatross has offered up
His last wing-pulse, and downcast as a cup
That's drained, is shivered back to earth — thy wand
Has beat a song, O Walt, — there and beyond!
And this, thine other hand, upon my heart
Is plummet ushered of those tears that start
What memories of vigils, bloody, by that Cape, —
Ghoul-mound of man's perversity at balk
And fraternal massacre! Thou, pallid there as chalk
Hast kept of wounds, O Mourner, all that sum
That then from Appomattox stretched to Somme!
Cowslip and shad-blow, flaked like tethered foam
Around bared teeth of stallions, bloomed that spring
When first I read thy lines, rife as the loam
Of prairies, yet like breakers cliffward leaping!
O, early following thee, I searched the hill
Blue-writ and odor-firm with violets, 'til
With June the mountain laurel broke through green
And filled the forest with what clustrous sheen!
Potomac lilies, — then the Pontiac rose,
And Klondike edelweiss of occult snows!
White banks of moonlight came descending valleys —
How speechful on oak-vizored palisades,
As vibrantly I following down Sequoia alleys
Heard thunder's eloquence through green arcades
Set trumpets breathing in each clump and grass tuft — 'til
Gold autumn, captured, crowned the trembling hill!
Panis Angelicus ! Eyes tranquil with the blaze
Of love's own diametric gaze, of love's amaze!
Not greatest, thou, — not first, nor last, — but near
And onward yielding past my utmost year
Familiar, thou, as mendicants in public places;
Evasive — too — as dayspring's spreading arc to trace is: —
Our Meistersinger, thou set breath in steel;
And it was thou who on the boldest heel
Stood up and flung the span on even wing
Of that great Bridge, our Myth, whereof I sing!
Years of the Modern! Propulsions toward what capes?
But thou, Panis Angelicus , hast thou not seen
And passed that Barrier that none escapes —
But knows it leastwise as death-strife? — O, something green,
Beyond all sesames of science was thy choice
Wherewith to bind us throbbing with one voice,
New integers of Roman, Viking, Celt —
Thou, Vedic Caesar, to the greensward knelt!
And now, as launched in abysmal cupolas of space,
Toward endless terminals, Easters of speeding light —
Vast engines outward veering with seraphic grace
On clarion cylinders pass out of sight
To course that span of consciousness thou'st named
The Open Road — thy vision is reclaimed!
What heritage thou'st signalled to our hands!
And see! the rainbow's arch — how shimmeringly stands
Above the Cape's ghoul-mound, O joyous seer!
Recorders ages hence, yes, they shall hear
In their own veins uncancelled thy sure tread
And read thee by the aureole 'round thy head
Of pasture-shine, Panis Angelicus !
Afoot again, and onward without halt, —
Not soon, nor suddenly, — no, never to let go
Walt Whitman —
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